Simply Baseball Notebook straight from the source Dec 2003

Catching Up with Morneau

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photo by Sebastian Vannavong

The 2003 season is one that Twins' prospect Justin Morneau will never forget.  He began the season at Double A New Britain, was quickly promoted to Triple A Rochester, and then called up by the Twins in early June.  His first taste of the bigs began with a flourish, but lack of playing time and inexperience caught up with the 22-year-old, and by late July he was back in Triple A.

When the Twins expanded their rosters in September, Morneau found himself back in the big leagues, but under completely different circumstances.  "I am in a different role this time," Morneau said in September.  "I am coming off the bench, pinch hitting if they have a righty coming in - situational stuff.  It's a little more relaxed this time, and I know how to deal with the surroundings."

Morneau made his major league debut on June 10, and after two games was hitting .625 (5-8). At the time the rookie admitted "there's nowhere to go but down," and he was right. After a  4 for 35 slump in July, he was sent back down to Triple A.

"I wasn't playing that much at the end, which makes it a little tougher," Morneau explained.  "I'd get in there, and think I'd have to hit a home run every at bat.  I started chasing at pitches I wouldn't normally swing at.  I'd start thinking 'if I hit a home run here, I'll be in the line up tomorrow.  Now I just try to hit the ball hard, because once it hits your bat, you don't have any control over it anyway."

When asked if it was more fun to play everyday at Triple A or sit on the bench in the big leagues, Morneau said he had gained an appreciation for bench players, but admitted he wants to play.  "I was ready to start playing everyday again," the eager rookie explained.  "(Being on the bench) is a tough role to have, if you can find anyone that can be a consistent .250 hitter, like (Twins utility man)  Denny (Hocking) does -- it's huge."

The British Columbia native used his time in the minors to get back into the groove. "I just kept playing, getting at bats," he explained.  "They talked about (managing) the strike zone, but I don't know, I had the same approach that I did earlier in the year."

Regarded as one of the top power-hitting prospects in all of baseball, Morneau hit 22 home runs in 344 minor league at bats in 2003.  He also hit four mammoth shots at the major league level.  His blasts at Milwaukee and Detroit were the longest hit at the respective parks that season.

Despite all the hype that can surround a highly touted prospect, Morneau realizes the need to improve and gain more experience.  "I have to keep getting better all around," he admitted.  "I feel like I've come along way this year, but I need to play more first base, see more pitchers, and get more at bats."

The promising slugger doesn't plan on getting much rest this winter.  Following the season, he headed to Panama to play for team Canada in the Olympic qualifying tournament. After that it's on to Puerto Rico for winter ball, followed by a three week vacation.  After a little rest, he'll join teammates Doug Mientiewicz and Rob Bowen in Arizona to work out and prepare for Spring Training.

After sampling what the big league lifestyle has to offer, Morneau seems focused on establishing himself as a major leaguer in 2004.  "(I want to) come into camp healthy, stay strong, and try to earn a spot on the team," he commented.  "I've got to get here before I can do anything."

-David Zingler

The Morneau Chronicles

Morneau's statistics @ BASEBALL-REFERENCE.com

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